In the previous episode of our ‘monuments in watercolor’ series, we looked at the great pyramid complex at Giza, Egypt. In this new episode, we will travel through space and time hundreds of years later across the Mediterranean sea to Athens, Greece, and appreciate the Athenians’ tribute to their patron goddess Athena — the Parthenon.
Dedicated in the mid 4th century BCE, the Parthenon is frequently hailed as the pinnacle of Doric ordered architecture and the zenith of Ancient Greek architecture. However, I contest to say that the (architecture) value of the Parthenon lies not so much in its overt formal qualities as in the more subtle design decisions made by the architects.
Comparing to other magnificent Hellenistic sculptures that embody the astonishing realism that ancient Greek statues are known for, the friezes at the Parthenon do not necessarily constitute the best works of that period. However, what mesmerizes the scholars is the subtleties that lie beneath the temple’s rigid structure.
To counter the heaviness entailed in the Parthenon’s building material, ‘curvature’ was deployed as a recurring theme as a ‘softener’ to balance the overall appearance of the design: the entasis (gentle tapering in the fluted pillars) visually plays off against the solemness of the temple, though originated in the ancient Egypt and prevalent across multiple different cultures, the fluidity in the columns resulted from this practice livens the design of the temple. Moreover, the slightly curved footprint in the stylobate, presumably designed this way to force correct the optical illusions the visitors perceive, also attests to the designers’ attention to detail.
Regarding the painting techniques, to be honest, I’m not very content with the final result of this painting. I think the biggest problem with this piece is the lack of value: when we examine the foreground, midground, and background in this composition, they are all very similar in terms of value, which results in the painting looking like a mess of unintelligible warm fuzzy colors. Whereas what I should have done, is to paint the midground, the temple in this case, with the brightest value, and dim the foreground and the backdrop, to direct the audience’s attention to the subject matter.
With that in mind, I will strive to improve my use of value in future works, please stay tuned for future episodes in our ‘monuments in watercolor’ series.